Beyoncé x Coachella | Black Iconography as a Tool to Terraform Traditionally White Spaces
“Beyoncé singing the United Negro National Anthem at Coachella is the very definition of intertextuality: the shaping and revising of a well-known text (i.e. Coachella — a mostly white, apolitical, secular, modernity-centric space) with new meaning by the insertion of another bold text — in this case a negro spiritual written in 1905.
Beyond her gifts at reshaping spaces once inaccessible to black music , it’s very interesting to see how she chooses to accomplish the task. More than a forced cultural seizure of those not previously ‘invited to the party,’ her chosen means of recolonize this to our space is to do so as if it were a well orchestrated hostile takeover: buying so many shares of the thing itself that she becomes a majority shareholder — able to do with the remaining company whatever she chooses.
The expectations were so high, and people’s belief in her so unflinching that she had goodwill to spend…and spend it she did on everyone’s favorite little festival in Indio, CA by the name of Coachella.
To carry the already over-extended metaphor further, if we track her cultural acquisitions (conquests) as of late, we see that she’s using the immense amount of cultural capital at her disposal in very interesting ways. Having reached what any artist, living or dead, would be glad to call the pinnacle of their career, she has decided to do interesting things with the long stretch of runway ahead of her. So much so that I’m not sure we could have predicted what she would decided to do with her cultural capital at Coachella that would be unexpected. But come with the surprises she did.
From the unmistakably New Orleans brass band entrance, to the her Nefertiti crown, right down to the Mississippi-born J-setting dance team choreography — Beyonce chose to use this latest moment, where all eyes are on her to cook America a gumbo of reconstituted black cultural marginalia for their edification — if not their enjoyment.
To our surprise what came about was a survey course in African-American, and Afro-diasporic culture, for an audience that didn’t know that they signed up. It included everything from Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine” to OT Genesis’ “Everybody Mad,” to attract from Malcolm X on the relative burdens of black womanhood. She had two uninterrupted hours to talk mainstream America about anything she wanted, and everyone’s bafflement, and subsequent excitement, gave them a Masters degree at her own HBCU.
When you consider that the bulk of her audience is Caucasian — and, arguably would never have an occasion to interact with any of these cultural artifacts — it was scintillating in its transgressive power to create (for two-hours) a strange new, if not fertile, world that literally could not exist otherwise without a stage of that magnitude, an artist of that magnitude, and a bravado of the magnitude to mount for that audience so they might not otherwise have any interest in seeing.
And furthermore to elevate and deliver them in such a way as not to lose interest, and to possibly edify the world at large on her particular collection of southern black esoterics is artistic work of pop-art genius.
Though some might see the performance as impenetrable, or need an index to understand the symbols (or run running the risk of them being illegible) this is done purposefully… allowing Caucasian people to feel what cultures outside the mainstream feel every day when they enter into them. It results in a multi-modal work: bifurcating the discussion of the work itself into an intra- community conversation as well as an extra-community exploration of a foreign space.
There’s a moment where the traditionally centered group — if only for those two hours— is put on the outside of their own space, and in a way gets them to feel the disorientation many of us feel on a daily basis.
My main takeaway about her as an artist is that: What her songs may lack in lyrical depth or sophistication, the make up for in the infinitely political and ends to which they are presented and applied in practice.
And as such they rise to the level of something endlessly interesting to interrogate and are worthy of attention as legitimate cultural moments. Her art itself is not political, but the application of it most deliciously is.